Movistar Plus, the pay TV division of giant European telco Telefonica, in 2016 started producing and releasing its own original series. In a second phase, it linked to prestige European production partners, first with Arte France on “Hierro” and now, with “Tell Me Who I Am,” a woman’s emancipation epic made with Telemundo Intl. Studios, and Alejandro Amenábar’s upcoming “La Fortuna,” an adventure thriller made with AMC Studios, Movistar Plus is quickly building its U.S. connection.
The Beta Film-sold “Tell Me Who I Am” is one of the biggest series Movistar Plus has ever made. It charts a woman’s battle for freedom from traditional gender roles and totalitarianism. It spans 60 years, from heroine Amelia’s conservative upper-class Madrid youth in 1934 through Stalin’s 1938 Moscow elite purges, to Mussolini’s Italy, the decline of Nazi forces’ grip on Athens and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It shot for eight months in more than 300 locations across Europe, employing more than 3,000 actors and extras and choreographing action scenes on a level rarely seen in Spanish TV. The dialogue is in Spanish, French, Russian, Italian and Polish.
“The casting and production design on this series were two of the most complicated things we’ve ever done,” producer José Manuel Lorenzo from Banijay-owned, Madrid-based DLO Producciones told Variety just before San Sebastian, where the nine-part series had its world premiere.
U.S. players have by far the deepest pockets of any companies in the business. By co-producing, companies ratchet down risk, says Guy Bisson, at Ampere Analysis.
That said, money is not really the issue when co-producing “Tell Me Who I Am,” says Movistar Plus Sergio Oslé. Movistar Plus parent Telefonica, after all, posted revenues of €48.4 billion ($56.6 billion) in 2019.
More to the point, both the Telemundo and AMC Studios co-production deals guarantee distribution in the U.S. market via the U.S. partner, as the challenge Movistar Plus faces is not so much financing as the muscular international distribution of its banner series.
As TIS president and “Tell Me Who I Am” producer Marcos Santana pointed out, when the Movistar Plus-Telemundo deal was announced at 2019’s NATPE trade fair, the U.S. Hispanic market is the seventh-biggest economy in the world.
Clinching a U.S. deal, even if a partner retains distribution rights and revenues, can have large marketing value and benefit sales to other territories, Bisson says.
However, “entering the U.S. market is difficult for us,” Oslé says, since global platforms will demand a global deal and a window in Spain, bringing them into direct competition with Movistar Plus.
“We really need to find strong local partners to have some impact in the U.S. This within the context that our true concern is to be relevant in Spain,” Oslé adds.
A second payoff may be the creative and commercial upside from joining companies in the U.S. and Europe.
“Especially for people like ourselves, where we strive to have something that’s mass-reaching but not obviously commercial — getting feedback from people that have intuitively a more commercial approach to content is really useful,” Oslé notes.
That type of appeal plays out through “Tell Me Who I Am,” says Movistar Plus head of original programming Domingo Corral.
The series was created by Lorenzo and director Eduard Cortés, based on Julia Navarro’s best-selling novel of the same title.
Says Corral: “It’s thanks to women like Amelia that women today can dream like her. That’s a huge reason for the success of the book, and something the series picked up on well.”